Maths Sparks: Investigating the impact of outreach on pupil’s attitudes towards mathematics

Anthony Gerard Cronin, Aoibhinn Ni Shuilleabhain, Emily Lewanowski-Breen, Christopher Kennedy


In this article, we examine the impact of participating in a series of mathematics workshops on secondary-school pupils’ attitudes towards mathematics. A six-week program, entitled ‘Maths Sparks’, was run by a team of lecturers and students at a research-intensive university in the Republic of Ireland. The outreach series aimed to promote mathematics to pupils from schools designated as socio-economically disadvantaged (DEIS - Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools), who are less likely to study mathematics at higher level than their non-DEIS counterparts (Smyth et al. 2015). Sixty-two pupils participated in the research and data was generated through pre-post questionnaires based on the Fennema-Sherman (1976) framework of Attitudes to Mathematics. Findings suggest that while male students initially had more positive attitudes towards mathematics, there was a narrowing in this gender gap across several factors on the Fennema-Sherman scale as a result of participation in the programme. The most prominent of these features were: ‘Attitudes towards success in mathematics’ and ‘Motivation towards mathematics’. Findings suggest that the construct and delivery of this Mathematics outreach programme, involving undergraduate students and academic staff, may provide a useful structure in benefitting pupils’ attitudes towards mathematics and encouraging their study of the subject.


mathematics outreach; widening participation; student-staff collaboration; pedagogy

Full Text:



Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77-101. doi:10.1191/1478088706qp063oa

Cox, B., & Bidgood, P. (2002). Widening Participation in MSOR. MSOR Connections, 2(1), pp.15-19.

Fennema, E., & Sherman, J. A. (1976). Fennema-Sherman Mathematics Attitudes Scales: Instruments Designed to Measure Attitudes toward the Learning of Mathematics by Females and Males. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 7(5), pp. 324-326. doi:10.2307/748467

Looney, A. (2006). Assessment in the Republic of Ireland. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 13(3), pp. 345-353. doi:10.1080/09695940601035544

Lyons, M., Lynch, K., Close, S., Sheerin, E., & Boland, P. (2003). Inside Classrooms: The Teaching and Learning of Mathematics in Social Context. Dublin: Insitute of Public Administration.

Ni Shuilleabhain, A., & Cronin, A. (2015). Maths Sparks: Developing Community and Widening Participation. MSOR Connections, 14(1), pp. 43-53.

Schoenfeld, A. H. (1992). Learning to think Mathematically: Problem Solving, Metacognition, And Sense-Making in Mathematics. In D. Grouws (Ed.), Handbook for Research on Mathematics Teaching and Learning (pp. 334-370). New York: MacMilan.

Schoenfeld, A. H. (2002). Making Mathematics Work for All Children: Issues of Standards, Testing, and Equity. Educational Researcher, 31(1), pp. 13-25.

Shiel, G., Kelleher, C., McKeown, C., & Denner, S. (2015). Future Ready? The performance of 15-year-olds in Ireland on Science, Reading Literacy and Mathematics in PISA 2015. Retrieved from Dublin.

Smyth, E., McCoy, S., & Kingston, G. (2015). Learning from the Evaluation of DEIS. Retrieved from Dublin.

Verschaffel, L., De Corte, E., Lasure, S., Van Vaerenbergh, G., Bogaerts, H., & Ratinckx, E. (1999). Learning to Solve Mathematical Application Problems: A Design Experiment with Fifth Graders. Mathematical Thinking and Learning, 1(3), pp. 195-229.



  • There are currently no refbacks.